IT Employment

Beat the technical interview!

Here's an article that makes the process of securing a software development job (which for us usually lands on the .NET/C# side of things) more fun by treating it like the "cheat codes" to a game in which you're the protagonist preparing to go up against hiring managers.

Editor’s note: Now for something completely different. Benjamin Weiss of Infusive Solutions, reached out to colleagues in the HR and computer industries to develop a “hiring game.” The “game” includes levels you have to “beat” to get to a job, starting with the HR interview. The concept may seem like fun but the information Weiss and his colleagues provide is invaluable.

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The process of getting a software development position can, at times, be stressful and convoluted.

Sure, sometimes your skills are so sharp or so unique that a hiring firm will move faster than usual. Similarly, the firm may have a need so urgent that leadership is forced to catalyze the offer stage.

But, many times software development candidates will find themselves on an epic employment quest that requires complex progression through different levels of hiring authorities before the job opportunity in question is secured.

Wait a second … epic quest? Levels? Sounds a little like a video game, right?

Let’s expand on that idea. When you think about it, hiring authorities in technical interview processes are similar to the “bosses” that players encounter at the climax of specific video game sections.

Just like a firm’s IT hiring managers, these bosses are generally powerful gatekeepers that must be overcome before the game’s protagonist (perhaps Mario, Zelda or Duke Nukem) can advance onto the next level.

And since different bosses have different characteristics, protagonists need to deploy tailored strategies to successfully get past them (though there may be overlap).

With that in mind, let’s make the process of securing a software development job (which for us usually lands on the .NET/C# side of things) more fun by treating this resource like the “cheat codes” to a game in which you’re the protagonist preparing to go up against bosses, including:

  • The Human Resources Professional
  • The Senior Developer
  • The Software Manager
  • The Chief Technology Officer

In order to make these cheat codes all the more useful, the organizing team at IT staffing firm Infusive Solutions tapped experts in HR, software development and IT leadership to explain how candidates can advance past each boss and reign victorious in a dream development job.

Ready to start? Awesome! Put on your game face and prepare to go up against the Human Resources boss in level 1.

Level 1: Boss, The Human Resources professional

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By: Jennifer Loftus - National Director, Astron Solutions - Former President of New York City’s SHRM Chapter

Anyone who has ever interviewed for a software development job knows the first person you probably speak with is a Human Resources (HR) professional. He/she has many questions to ask and holds the key to getting through to the next levels where you’ll get to grapple with IT department managers. But, how can you master this first level of the interview process, which requires getting your application noticed, acing a phone screen and building rapport with the HR boss in-person? 

Over the years, the HR professional has been stereotyped as the police department of an organization, thwarting the efforts of internal employees and prospective candidates. Remember Catbert from Dilbert, and Toby from The Office?  They are not the most flattering presentations of HR.

At times, you may find yourself frustrated by HR’s apparent power over your career. However, HR’s main goal isn’t to prevent you from being hired. Rather, their charge from leadership is to find the best-suited candidates for a job opening, which may include any combination of education, professional/supervisory experience and certifications depending on the individual requirements of the spec. So what can you do to make sure that you quickly rise to the top of the short list? Let’s explore a variety of possibilities to help you build rapport with the HR boss and move on to level two.

Avoiding moves that get your avatar killed before the first round interview with HR

Sending a résumé with typos

Your résumé is a reflection on you, your attention to detail and your enthusiasm for a job opening. Sending a résumé with typos is a sure way to say to HR that you do not care about the organization or the job. Proofread and spell-check your résumé several times before sending it. Read it out loud to catch errors you miss when reading. Ask a friend or relative to read it as well. A fresh set of eyes may discover something you missed.

Sending a too-long résumé

You have accomplished many great things during your working career and you want to celebrate them. HR wants to know that you are a good potential fit for the job opening, but nonetheless has limited time to read your résumé. Focus and edit your résumé to highlight your specific skills and talents that pertain to this particular job opening. Your résumé should be between 500 – 1,000 words, and two pages maximum. Using a small point size, such as 8 or 9 point, is not an acceptable way to get around this matter. Use an easy-to-read font in 12 point type.

Sending an incorrectly tailored résumé and cover letter

Customization, when done properly, is an excellent way to show that you care. Therefore, before submitting that résumé and cover letter, triple check to make sure that the job, organization and industry referenced in the documents match the job for which you are applying.

For example, applying for a .NET development role at a financial services organization with a résumé and cover letter expressing interest in an IT management function at a non-profit swiftly puts you in the “no interview” category.

One-upping during the in-person HR interview

Congratulations! You received a call from HR and have a first in-person interview on your calendar. Here are a few cheat codes that will help unlock the gate at the end of level 1 and help you move on to the senior developer in level 2.

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Arrive prepared and early

When you arrive at the employer’s office, you may have to complete a variety of paperwork, including an application form. Build in enough time for yourself to complete the paperwork so that your interview can start on time. Waiting 20 minutes for an applicant who did not realize he or she would have to complete an application can be frustrating, particularly if interviews are scheduled back-to-back. Also, bring full contact information for at least four truthful references who have agreed to speak on your behalf.

Dress professionally

As a general rule of thumb, it is better to be overdressed than underdressed. Gentlemen, suit and tie. Women, a suit with a skirt and hose. Wear dark, conservative colors and long-sleeved shirts. [Editor’s note: Dressing in a conservative suit may not be appropriate for more creative, startup-type environments so it’s always best to double check with HR beforehand].

Take care of hygiene

Your personal hygiene should not be a distraction during an initial interview. Before an interview, make sure that you do not smell of anything strong, such as onions, garlic, coffee, cigarettes or perfume. Enjoy a mint or a breath strip before you enter the employer’s premises to start the interview on a fresh note.

Focus!

During the interview, give your full attention and courtesy to HR and turn off your cell phone to avoid unnecessary distractions.

Almost at level 2!

Proper clothing – check. Fresh breath – check. Fully attentive – check. You are in the home stretch of level 1 now! Assuming that you are in fact qualified for the job you have applied for, in no time you should be on your way to interviewing with the IT department as long as you  ...

Maintain eye contact

Maintaining eye contact demonstrates your interest in the position and the organization. Keep your eye on the interviewer – not your hands, the ceiling, floor or window.

Go on the offensive

Many individuals have gaps in their work experience, particularly after the economic downturn of 2008 – 2009. Rather than letting the interviewer fill in the blanks to your detriment, proactively explain any gaps in your employment. Being forthcoming and honest with such information sets you above those who try to provide misleading information.”

Be prepared to speak about former employers

HR will most likely ask you why you left your last jobs, and your favorite and least favorite parts of each role. Be prepared with your truthful and tactful answers so you can respond quickly. Remember not to bash your former boss or colleagues as that reflects poorly on you.

Ensure understanding

Software developers use many acronyms: ASP, CAO, GAC, IIS, etc. When speaking with an HR rep (who may be non-technical), define any acronym the first time you use it to ensure common understanding. For example, “when I earned my PMP, or Project Management Professional certification, I was promoted….”  If HR still is unsure of the term or acronym, he or she can follow up with more questions.

Ask questions

Do your homework on the organization and prepare at least three or four questions to ask the HR rep. Some effective standby questions include the following:

  • What is your favorite part of the organization?
  • Why do you work here? (People love talking about themselves!)
  • How will IT support the organization’s plans for growth / contraction?
  • What are some common mistakes new hires make?

Say “Thank You”

If the interview has gone well, the HR rep should have spent anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes with you. Within a day, say thank you for the time by sending a handwritten thank you note in addition to an e-mailed thank you.

This old-school technique will set you apart from the crowd and be appreciated and remembered by the interviewer. Include in the body of your handwritten note a key point or two from the interview to personalize its content. [Editor’s note: Be sure to have an extra pair of eyes on your thank you note as a bad one could differentiate you in a negative way].

Alas, you’ve avoided the landmines in the HR interview and your quest continues as you journey on to meet the boss of level two: The Senior Developer.

7 comments
Regulus
Regulus

You have taken an excellent article and ruined it by placing it in a multiple page format with no 'View All' option prominently placed at the beginning of the article.  As you well know, multiple page articles and / or slide shows are the bane of all Tech Minded people.  We rather expect this of the naive amateurs at ZD Net, but you don't have to follow them.  Please consult with Jason on this.  Thank You.

exex.zian
exex.zian

One of the best interview tip article :) glad to read to pleasure to share

exex.zian
exex.zian

One of the best interview tip article :) glad to read to pleasure to share

minstrelmike
minstrelmike

Bravo. 

Well done article with an interesting and perfectly apropos analogy fully implemented to effect a double whammy on the reader.

guillegr123
guillegr123

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